Race Report: David Wronski Runs Brazil 135 in Vibrams (Part 1)

by Abbie on January 31, 2011

Guest Post by David Wronski, which you may remember from an earlier post about the Brazil 135

This is Part 1 of a two part race report!

Race Highlights:

-Finished in 17th place, 2nd American.
-Finish time: 47 hours 25 min
-Distance/Elevation Change: 135 miles/217km, 66,000ft
-Youngest finisher ever of the Brazil 135.
-First person to start and finish a 135 mile race wearing only Vibram FiveFingers.

From the moment I arrived in Sao Paulo to the post-race dinner in Parasopolis 6 days later, I have never felt more grateful to be a part of something as amazing as the BR135. As I was walking around embracing other ultrarunners from all around the world at the post-race celebration, I came to the realization that this was not just another race; this was an amazing group of individuals that had been complete strangers to me less than 1 week ago.

This may be the longest race report you’ve ever read, but fitting 47 hours of non-stop amazing adventure while running nearly barefoot into a few paragraphs is nearly impossible. Hope you enjoy!

Day 1:
The race began at 8am on Jan. 21, 2011 in downtown Sao Joao da Boa Vista with a great atmosphere of runners, their crews, and many locals. I was so happy to finally be starting this race that I had been so anxiously waiting for since I arrived in Brasil! All my training was now behind me, and I knew I was about to embark on something quite special.

The original plan was to run to each designated city (10-22km away) where my team would be waiting for me. The first few miles went quickly, until I found myself about 50 yards ahead of a group of Brazilian runners who quickly yelled to me in Portuguese that I had missed the turn onto an overgrown grassy single track trail. This first mistake of mine made me much more aware of the scattered yellow painted arrows that I would be following for the next 130 miles on the Caminho da Fe.  I came to realize these important yellow arrows “seta amarela” were painted on anything from mailboxes, signs, trees, etc.

I quickly thanked them and continued on my way where I came across a runner named Miguel.  I said my usual “bon dia” meaning good morning/day, and he quickly responded with ” hey, how’s it going!” I was caught off guard and told him it was great to find a runner who I could actually have a conversation with while heading to our first stop (Aguas de Prata). Miguel was an adventure racer from Rio and spoke excellent English, which allowed us to carry on some good conversation for the next 10+ miles. After arriving at the first stop (Aguas de Prata) in 2:30 hrs, I was happy to see my team waiting for me. I had my bottles refilled and enjoyed a few minutes of rest, before I continued to my next destination, Pico de Gavilan, the highest (altitude) point in the race.

Photo Courtesy of David Wronski

The plan was to meet my team again at the top of Pico where I’d refill again and rest briefly. Little did I know that the next 6.5 hrs would NOT go as planned! Miguel and I left together from Aguas de Prata and decided to try and keep a good rhythm of running all the flats and down hills while walking the up hills, something you can hardly learn in a book or by simply doing enough events. We did this very well for the next 2 hours until the heat started to reach the mid 90s and I realized there was no way the 2 liters of water I had on me was going to get me all the way to Pico.

Just as our worry for water was getting serious, we came across a wonderful sight, a fast flowing waterfall. I quickly tried to tap into my “Bear Grylls” knowledge of drinking fresh water in nature. Having no chlorine tablets, I knew I was either drinking it as is, or risking dehydration while still being many miles from any aid. I surveyed the situation and figured it would be safe to drink. It was fast moving, looked crystal clear, had no odor, and was flowing over rock, so I decided to take the chance and fill my bottles.

It tasted and felt amazing, I soaked myself and hoped for the best. After a few uphill sections I began to distance myself from Miguel and found the climb up Pico not as strenuous as I had imagined. Knowing that my team would be waiting for me at the top of the mountain, made it much easier. I arrived at the top, reported my BIB number, snapped a few photos, and looked for my crew. I couldn’t find them anywhere so I figured they were down at the base of the mountain, waiting for me there. I headed down at a pretty fast pace, looking forward to seeing them at the base. When I reached the bottom I again was unable to find any of them!

Photo Courtesy of David Wronski

I quickly became worried, hoping they hadn’t come across any problems with the car. I looked again for any sign of them but had no success. I couldn’t stand around, so I chose to keep moving and continued going forward, thinking I couldn’t be more than an hour away from Andradas the next town/stop where I’d hope to see them. Little did I know it would be 3.5 hrs of unshaded hot running/walking until I’d arrive in Andradas. At this point I knew I was going to need some aid in order to reach Andradas. Luckily there were a few generous crews for other runners that refilled my bottles and even gave me a few more Gels. I continued on my way feeling lucky to have water, but still being very worried about where my team was. I was now going on 5+ hours without seeing them, and knew I had to be getting close to Andradas.

I started the steep descent into town on what seemed to be the worst barefoot trail running surface imaginable. The trail was completely covered in softball sized rocks with jagged edges with no clear path to follow. The combination of the rocky surface, gravity taking me downhill at a quick pace, and running in my Vibrams, turned out to equal disaster. After a few minutes of quick descent, I took a step with my right foot and landed directly on the point of an extremely sharp cornered rock. Granted I have been running in Vibrams for over a year and have been used to stepping on plenty of sharp rocks, but the second my foot struck this rock I knew I had seriously injured my foot. The pain was incredible, and I was really hoping I could walk it off.

Unfortunately after another mile it didn’t feel any better and continued to throb with every step I took.

As soon as I was about to get angry with myself, I saw a girl running uphill towards me. It turned out to be Dawn, who had been running for 1 hour uphill from Andradas looking for me! I told her what had just happened to my foot, and how glad I was to finally see her again. We made it back to Andradas together where I FINALLY reunited with my crew.

It was now about 2-3 hrs until sunset on the first day, and I had a 8-10 mile distance to cover to reach the 50 mile checkpoint in Serra dos Lima. This was a very wide portion of the trail, which I quickly found out wasn’t a good thing. The Caminho da Fe is not only a foot path, but in certain areas its very heavily used by trucks, dirtbikes, etc. Mostly for transportation between these very remote country towns.

This resulted in two negative side affects: a lot of dust, and exhaust being blown everywhere while we were running. I overcame this small inconvenience, and was looking forward to the sun going down, and the temperature dropping. I reached Serra dos Lima, mile 50, and took a bit longer of a stop to eat, and get my reflective night gear on.

Night 1

Sam, one of my Brazilian team members, would be running with me through the 1st night. As I quickly learned after my first 100 mile experience last July, having a pacer especially at night is such a huge help! Not only did Sam keep me company, but he made sure I was running all the flat portions that we could see. We skipped Barra (the next crew checkpoint) and go straight to Crisolia (about 12-15km away), ran through the night, skipped the next designated stop (Ouro Fino) and headed to Inconfidentes which would bring us to about 5:30 AM (sunrise).

At Inconfidentes checkpoint I again ate my usual chicken noodle soup, put on a long sleeve shirt to save me from getting a 2nd sunburn, and was ready to start running with Dawn (the 2nd day).

Come back tomorrow for Part 2!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas February 1, 2011 at 6:16 am

Awesome job! Super inspirational and I would LOVE to do an ultra one day. One (bare) step at a time! Way to go. This was well written and feel free to share more photos!

David Wronski February 15, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Thanks Thomas! I appreciate the comments :)

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